In three days, a new era of Florida Football will begin. Will Muschamp is picking up where Urban Meyer left off. At first glance, the September 3rd opener against Florida Atlantic seems like an exhibition game. The same could be said about last season's opener versus Miami University. The Red Hawks, coming off a 1-10 season in 2009, trailed the Gators 21-9 going into the 4th quarter. Florida stumbled its way to an uninspiring 31-12 victory.
While there is a great amount of excitement about this year's team, anyone who claims to know what to expect is just plain lying.
That being said, everyone loves a little speculation, right?
Changes on Offense
We all know that the offense is going to look markedly different this year. Charlie Weis's pro-style offense is about as different from the spread as one could get. "You can count the number of times John Brantley will run the option this year on no hands," said Weis, which is a stark contrast from last season in which Brantley was a square peg and Steve Addazio was like a toddler trying to fit his QB into a round hole. It was easy to see that Brantley's confidence was non-existent by the end of last season, and much has been said this summer about his transformation into a confident leader with command of the offense. We will see how that translates on the field this weekend.
FAU's defense should not put up much resistance, and we will probably not see much more than a watered down version of the offense on Saturday. What I will be looking for is how the offensive line works as a unit, and how Weis utilizes RBs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, as well as Trey Burton.
If Florida can mount an effective running game, the passing should follow. Weis has a knack for finding the strength of an offense and going with it. He is a guy that will call the same play over and over until you figure out how to stop it. I have a feeling that the running game will be the strength of this team, and that we could see something similar to the Kansas City Chiefs last season, which featured a 2-headed rushing attack, and paved the way for a young QB to spread the ball around, and keep defenses off-balance with a heavy dose of play-action. In 2009, Chiefs QB Matt Cassel threw 16 TD and 16 INTs, with a rating of 69.9 and a whopping 42 sacks. With Weis taking over KC's offense last season, Cassel improved a great deal, throwing 27 TDs to only 7 INTs. His rating improved to 93.0 and was sacked only 26 times.
Last year, Brantley threw for only 9 TDs and had 10 INTs, while completing only 60.8% of his passes and took 22 sacks, a number that could have been doubled had he not shared snaps with Burton and Jordan Reed. It seems likely that Brantley will improve a great deal under Weis, if for no other reason than that it is not the spread.
One often overlooked aspect of the Florida offense over the past two years is the severe lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position. Since the day Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy left campus, the WR spot has been, well, ho-hum.
Every preseason, Deonte Thompson gets me excited, but then he drops a touchdown pass in the season opener and then sort of drifts off into nothingness. He is an extremely gifted athlete that can get open, so if he can focus on making catches, this could be a very big year for him. To be fair, he is often the focus of the defensive secondary due to a lack of a real threat elsewhere.
This year, look for the breakout of a few guys. Redshirt junior Frankie Hammond Jr. has been around for a few years and it is time for him to step up. He's had a great off-season and looks like he's ready to be a big time contributor. Redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar is being touted by the coaching staff as the 3rd best receiver at the moment and looks to get a lot of playing time. He too had a great spring, but nobody outside of the team and coaching staff has really seen what he is capable of.
Stephen Alli is another name to look out for. Alli, a 6'6'' redshirt sophomore also had a productive spring. I am a little hesitant to get too high on him just yet. I want to see some production first. He reminds me a lot of Dallas Baker, another lanky receiver who also had great springs, but it never really transferred to success in the fall until his senior season, where he earned the nickname "Touchdown Maker".
No matter how the offense looks, after such a disastrous 2010 season,there is nowhere to go but up.